From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from French American)

French Americans
Drapeau français-américain.svg
French ancestry in the USA and Canada.svg
French Americans and French Canadians as percent of population by state and province. [a]
Total population
Including French-Canadian:

8,053,902 (2.4%) alone or in combination
2,211,954 (0.7%) French or French-Canadian alone
Excluding French-Canadian:
6,464,646 (1.9%) alone or in combination
1,505,143 (0.5%) French alone

2021 estimates, self-reported [1]
Regions with significant populations
Predominantly in New England and Louisiana with smaller communities elsewhere; largest numbers in California. Significant communities also exist in New York, Wisconsin, and Michigan, as well as throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
French, English, Franglais
Predominantly Christian
(Majority Catholic, minority Protestant)
Related ethnic groups
French Canadians, French-Canadian Americans, Breton Americans

French Americans or Franco-Americans ( French: Franco-Américains), are citizens or nationals of the United States who identify themselves with having full or partial French or French-Canadian heritage, ethnicity and/or ancestral ties. [2] [3] [4] They include French-Canadian Americans, whose experience and identity differ from the broader community.

The state with the largest proportion of people identifying as having French ancestry is Maine, while the state with the largest number of people with French ancestry is California. Many U.S. cities have large French American populations. The city with the largest concentration of people of French extraction is Madawaska, Maine, while the largest French-speaking population by percentage of speakers in the U.S. is found in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana.

Country-wide, as of 2020, there are about 9.4 million U.S. residents who declare French ancestry [5] or French Canadian descent, and about 1.32 million [6] per the 2010 census, spoke French at home. [7] [8] An additional 750,000 U.S. residents speak a French-based creole language, according to the 2011 American Community Survey. [9]

Franco-Americans are less visible than other similarly sized ethnic groups and are relatively uncommon when compared to the size of France's population, or to the numbers of German, Italian, or English Americans. This is partly due to the tendency of Franco-American groups to identify more closely with North American regional identities such as French Canadian, Acadian, Brayon, Louisiana French ( Cajun, Creole) than as a coherent group, but also because emigration from France during the 19th century was low compared to the rest of Europe. Consequently, there is less of a unified French American identity as with other European American ethnic groups, and French descent is highly concentrated in Louisiana and New England. Nevertheless, the French presence has had an outsized impact on American toponyms.


Some Franco-Americans arrived prior to the founding of the United States, settling in places like the Midwest, Louisiana or Northern New England. In these same areas, many cities and geographic features retain their names given by the first Franco-American inhabitants, and in sum, 23 of the Contiguous United States were colonized in part by French pioneers or French Canadians, including settlements such as Iowa ( Des Moines), Missouri ( St. Louis), Kentucky ( Louisville) and Michigan ( Detroit), among others. [10] While found throughout the country, today Franco-Americans are most numerous in New England, northern New York, the Midwest, Louisiana, and northern California. Often, Franco-Americans are identified more specifically as being of French Canadians, Cajuns or Louisiana Creole descent. [11]

A vital segment of Franco-American history involves the Quebec diaspora of the 1840s–1930s, in which nearly one million French Canadians moved to the United States, mainly relocating to New England mill towns, fleeing economic downturn in Québec and seeking manufacturing jobs in the United States. Historically, French Canadians had among the highest birth rates in world history, explaining their relatively large population despite low immigration rates from France. These immigrants mainly settled in Québec and Acadia, although some eventually inhabited Ontario and Manitoba. Many of the first French-Canadian migrants to the U.S. worked in the New England lumber industry, and, to a lesser degree, in the burgeoning mining industry in the upper Great Lakes. This initial wave of seasonal migration was then followed by more permanent relocation in the United States by French-Canadian millworkers.


Map of New France about 1750 in North America

Louisiana Creole people refers to those who are descended from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, especially those of French and Spanish descent but also including individuals of mixed-race heritage (cf. Creoles of Color). Louisiana Creoles of any race have common European heritage and share cultural ties, such as the traditional use of the French language and the continuing practice of Catholicism; in most cases, the people are related to each other. Those of mixed race also sometimes have African and Native American ancestry. [12] As a group, the mixed-race Creoles rapidly began to acquire education, skills (many in New Orleans worked as craftsmen and artisans), businesses and property. They were overwhelmingly Catholic, spoke Colonial French (although some also spoke Louisiana Creole) and kept up many French social customs, modified by other parts of their ancestry and Louisiana culture. The free people of color married among themselves to maintain their class and social culture.

The Cajuns of Louisiana have a unique heritage, generally seeing themselves as distinct from Louisiana Creoles despite a number of historical documents also classifying the Acadians' descendants as Créoles. Their ancestors settled Acadia, in what is now the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and part of Maine in the 17th and early 18th centuries. In 1755, after capturing Fort Beauséjour in the region, the British Army forced the Acadians to either swear an oath of loyalty to the British Crown or face expulsion. Thousands refused to take the oath, causing them to be sent, penniless, to the 13 colonies to the south in what has become known as the Great Upheaval. Over the next generation, some four thousand managed to make the long trek to Louisiana, where they began a new life. The name Cajun is a corruption of the word Acadian. Many still live in what is known as the Cajun Country, where much of their colonial culture survives. French Louisiana, when it was sold by Napoleon in 1803, covered all or part of fifteen current U.S. states and contained French and Canadian colonists dispersed across it, though they were most numerous in its southernmost portion.

During the War of 1812, Louisiana residents of French origin took part on the American side in the Battle of New Orleans (December 23, 1814, through January 8, 1815). Jean Lafitte and his Baratarians later were honored by US General Andrew Jackson for their contribution to the defense of New Orleans. [13]

In Louisiana today, more than 15 percent of the population of the Cajun Country reported in the 2000 United States Census that French was spoken at home. [14]

Another significant source of immigrants to Louisiana was Saint-Domingue (today Haiti); many Saint Dominicans fled during this time, and half of the diaspora eventually settled in New Orleans. [15]

Biloxi in Mississippi, and Mobile in Alabama, still contain French American heritage since they were founded by the Canadian Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville.

The Houma Tribe in Louisiana still speak the same French they had been taught 300 years ago.

The Marquis de Lafayette, known as “The Hero of the Two Worlds” for his accomplishments in the service of the United States in the American War of Independence.

Colonial era

In the 17th and early 18th centuries there was an influx of a few thousand Huguenots, who were Calvinist refugees fleeing religious persecution following the issuance of the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau by Louis XIV of the Kingdom of France. [16] For nearly a century they fostered a distinctive French Protestant identity that enabled them to remain aloof from American society, but by the time of the American Revolution they had generally intermarried and merged into the larger Presbyterian community. [17] In 1700, they constituted 13 percent of the white population of the Province of Carolina and 5 percent of the white population of the Province of New York. [16] The largest number settling in South Carolina, where the French comprised four percent of the white population in 1790. [18] [19] With the help of the well organized international Huguenot community, many also moved to Virginia. [20] In the north, Paul Revere of Boston was a prominent figure.

A new influx of French-heritage people occurred at the very end of the colonial era. Following the failed invasion of Quebec in 1775-1776, hundreds of French-Canadian men who had enlisted in the Continental Army remained in the ranks. Under colonels James Livingston and Moses Hazen, they saw military action across the main theaters of the Revolutionary War. At the end of the war, New York State formed the Canadian and Nova Scotia Refugee Tract stretching westward from Lake Champlain. Though many of the veterans sold their claim in this vast region, some remained and the settlement held. From early colonizing efforts in the 1780s to the era of Quebec's "great hemorrhage," the French-Canadian presence in Clinton County in northeastern New York was inescapable. [21]


From the beginning of the 17th century, French Canadians explored and traveled to the region with their coureur de bois and explorers, such as Jean Nicolet, Robert de LaSalle, Jacques Marquette, Nicholas Perrot, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Pierre Dugué de Boisbriant, Lucien Galtier, Pierre Laclède, René Auguste Chouteau, Julien Dubuque, Pierre de La Vérendrye and Pierre Parrant.

The French Canadians set up a number of villages along the waterways, including Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin; La Baye, Wisconsin; Cahokia, Illinois; Kaskaskia, Illinois; Detroit, Michigan; Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan; Saint Ignace, Michigan; Vincennes, Indiana; St. Paul, Minnesota; St. Louis, Missouri; and Sainte Genevieve, Missouri. They also built a series of forts in the area, such as Fort de Chartres, Fort Crevecoeur, Fort Saint Louis, Fort Ouiatenon, Fort Miami (Michigan), Fort Miami (Indiana), Fort Saint Joseph, Fort La Baye, Fort de Buade, Fort Saint Antoine, Fort Crevecoeur, Fort Trempealeau, Fort Beauharnois, Fort Orleans, Fort St. Charles, Fort Kaministiquia, Fort Michilimackinac, Fort Rouillé, Fort Niagara, Fort Le Boeuf, Fort Venango and Fort Duquesne. The forts were serviced by soldiers and fur trappers who had long networks reaching through the Great Lakes back to Montreal. [22] Sizable agricultural settlements were established in the Pays des Illinois. [23]

The region was relinquished by France to the British in 1763 as a result of the Treaty of Paris. Three years of war by the Natives, called Pontiac's War, ensued. It became part of the Province of Quebec in 1774, and was seized by the United States during the Revolution. [24]

New England and New York State

In the nineteenth century, many people of French heritage arrived from Quebec and New Brunswick to work in manufacturing cities, especially textile centers, in New England and New York State. They came together in enclaves known as " Little Canadas". In the same period, Francophones from Quebec became a majority of workers in other regions and sectors, for instance the saw mill and logging camps in the Adirondack Mountains and their foothills. They amounted to an ever-growing share of the region's population; by the mid-twentieth century, Franco-Americans comprised 30 percent of Maine's population. [25]

The Statue of Liberty is a gift from the French people in memory of the American Declaration of Independence.

Factories could provide employment to entire nuclear families, including children. Some French-Canadian women saw New England as a place of opportunity and possibility where they could create economic alternatives for themselves distinct from the expectations of their farm families in Canada. By the early twentieth century, some saw temporary migration to the United States as a rite of passage and a time of self-discovery and self-reliance. Most moved permanently to the United States, using the inexpensive railroad system to visit Quebec from time to time. When these women did marry, they had fewer children with longer intervals between children than their Canadian counterparts. Some women never married and oral accounts suggest that self-reliance and economic independence were important reasons for choosing work over marriage and motherhood. These women conformed to traditional gender ideals in order to retain their 'Canadienne' cultural identity, but they also redefined these roles in ways that provided them increased independence as wives and mothers. [26] [27] Women also shaped the Franco-American experience as members of religious orders. The first hospital in Lewiston, Maine, became a reality in 1889 when the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, the 'Grey Nuns,' opened the Asylum of Our Lady of Lourdes. This hospital was central to the Grey Nuns' mission of providing social services for Lewiston's predominately French-Canadian mill workers. The Grey Nuns struggled to establish their institution despite meager financial resources, language barriers, and opposition from the established medical community. [28] [29]

The French-Canadian community in the Northeast tried to preserve its inherited cultural norms. This happened within the institutions of the Catholic Church, though it involved struggling with little success against Irish clerics. According to Raymond Potvin, the predominantly Irish hierarchy was slow to recognize the need for French-language parishes; several bishops even called for assimilation and English language-only parochial schools. By the twentieth century, a number of parochial schools for Francophone students opened, though they gradually closed later in the century and a large share of the French-speaking population left the Church. At the same time, the number of priests available to staff these parishes diminished. [30] Like Church institutions, such Franco-American newspapers as Le Messager and La Justice served as pillars of the ideology of survivance—the effort to preserve the traditional culture through faith and language. [31] A product of the commercial and industrial economy of these areas, by 1913, the French and French-Canadian populations of New York City, Fall River (Massachusetts), and Manchester (New Hampshire) were the largest in the country. Out of the 20 largest Franco-American populations in the United States, only four cities were outside of New York and New England, with New Orleans ranking 18th largest in the nation. [32] Because of this, a number of French institutions were established in New England, including the Société Historique Franco-américaine in Boston and the Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d’Amérique of Woonsocket, the largest French-Catholic cultural and mutual benefit society in the United States in the early twentieth century. [33] Immigration from Quebec dwindled in the 1920s.

Amid the decline of the textile industry from the 1920s to the 1950s, the French element experienced a period of upward mobility and assimilation. This pattern of assimilation increased during the 1970s and 1980s as many Catholic organizations switched to English and parish children entered public schools; some parochial schools closed in the 1970s. [25] [34] In recent decades, self-identification has moved away from the French language.

Franco-American culture continues to evolve in the twenty-first century. Well-established genealogical societies and public history venues still seek to share the Franco-American story. Their work is occasionally supported by the commercial and cultural interests of Quebec and state governments in the Northeast. [35] New groups and events have contributed to the effort. Some observers have drawn a comparison between recent developments and the appropriation and modernization of “Franco” culture by young people in the 1970s. For some, a “renaissance” or “revival” is under way. [36] [37]

The New Hampshire PoutineFest, founded by Timothy Beaulieu, uses an iconic Quebec dish to broaden interest in the culture. [38] The French-Canadian Legacy podcast offers contemporary perspectives on French-Canadian experiences on both sides of the border. Through a collaboration with the Quebec Government Office and local institutions, the podcast’s team established a GeoTour dedicated to Franco-American life in major New England cities. [39] Acts of commemoration have lately extended to pioneer suffragist Camille-Lessard Bissonnette. [40] Abby Paige has, for her part, brought the community’s history and its complicated legacies to the stage. [41] The culture and its manifestations in Louisiana, the Midwest, and the Northeast have become the focus of a course at Harvard University. [42] Francophonie Month (March) and St. John the Baptist Day (June 24) also provide an opportunity for celebration and increased visibility. [43] At the same time, some members of the community are inviting reconsideration of Franco-Americans’ place in conversations about race [44] [45] and class. [46]

Noted American popular culture figures who maintained a close connection to their French roots include musician Rudy Vallée (1901–1986) who grew up in Westbrook, Maine, a child of a French-Canadian father and an Irish mother, [47] and counter-culture author Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) who grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts. Kerouac was the child of two French-Canadian immigrants and wrote in both English and French. Franco-American political figures from New England include U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte ( R, New Hampshire), Governor Paul LePage of Maine, and Presidential adviser Jon Favreau, who was born and raised in Massachusetts.


During the early years of the California Gold Rush, over 20,000 migrants from France arrived in the state. [48] By the mid-1850s, San Francisco had emerged as the center of the French population on the West Coast, with over 30,000 people of French descent, more than any other ethnic group except Germans. [49] During this period, the city's French Quarter was established, along with important businesses and institutions such as the Boudin Bakery and French Hospital. As the latter half of the 19th century progressed, French immigrants continued to arrive in San Francisco in large numbers and French entrepreneurs played significant roles in shaping the city's culinary, fashion, and financial sectors. This led to the city earning the nickname "Paris of the Pacific". [50]

French immigrants and their descendants also began settling in what is now the North Bay, becoming instrumental in the development of Wine Country and the modern California wine industry. [51] Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, French architecture (especially Beaux-Arts) was heavily used in the rebuilding of the city, as evidenced in its City Hall, Legion of Honor Museum, and downtown news kiosks. [49]

As a result of historic connections and cultural exchanges between France and the region, the majority of French multinational businesses have established their U.S. headquarters or subsidiaries in the San Francisco Bay Area since the rise of Silicon Valley and the Dot-com bubble. [52]

Civil War

Franco-Americans in the Union forces were one of the most important Catholic groups present during the American Civil War. The exact number is unclear, but thousands of Franco-Americans appear to have served in this conflict. Union forces did not keep reliable statistics concerning foreign enlistments. However, historians have estimated anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 Franco-Americans serving in this war. In addition to those born in the United States, many who served in the Union forces came from Canada or had resided there for several years. Canada's national anthem was written by such a soldier named Calixa Lavallée, who wrote this anthem while he served for the Union, attaining the rank of Lieutenant. [53] Leading Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was a notably francophone Louisiana Creole.


Walker (1962) examines the voting behavior in U.S. presidential elections from 1880 to 1960, using election returns from 30 Franco-American communities in New England, along with sample survey data for the 1948–60 elections. According to Walker, from 1896 to 1924, Franco-Americans typically supported the Republican Party because of its conservatism, emphasis on order, and advocacy of the tariff to protect the textile workers from foreign competition. In 1928, with Catholic Al Smith as the Democratic candidate, the Franco-Americans moved over to the Democratic column and stayed there for six presidential elections. They formed part of the New Deal Coalition. Unlike the Irish and German Catholics, very few Franco-Americans deserted the Democratic ranks because of the foreign policy and war issues of the 1940 and 1944 campaigns. In 1952 many Franco-Americans broke from the Democrats but returned heavily in 1960. [54]

Additional work has expanded Walker's findings. Ronald Petrin has explored the rise of the Republican ascendency among Massachusetts Franco-Americans in the 1890s; the lengthy economic depression that coincided with President Grover Cleveland's administration and Franco-Irish religious controversies were likely factors in growing support for the GOP. Petrin recognizes different political behaviors in large cities and in smaller centers. [55] Madeleine Giguère has confirmed the later shift to the Democratic column through her research on Lewiston's presidential vote during the twentieth century. [56] In the most in-depth study of Franco-American political choices, Patrick Lacroix finds different patterns of partisan engagement across New England and New York State. In southern New England, Republicans actively courted the "Franco" vote and offered nominations. The party nominated Aram J. Pothier, a native of Quebec, who won his bid for the governorship of Rhode Island and served seven terms in that office. In northern New England, Franco-Americans faced exclusion from the halls of power and more easily turned towards the Democrats. During the 1920s, the regional disparity disappeared. Due to the nativist and anti-labor policies of Republican state governments, an increasingly unionized Franco-American working class lent its support to the Democrats across the region. Elite "Francos" continued to prefer the GOP. [57]

As the ancestors of most Franco-Americans had for the most part left France before the French Revolution, they usually prefer the fleur-de-lis to the modern French tricolor. [58]

Franco-American Day

In 2008, the state of Connecticut made June 24 Franco-American Day, recognizing French Canadians for their culture and influence on Connecticut. The states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, have now also held Franco-American Day festivals on June 24. [59]


Distribution of Franco Americans according to the 2000 census

According to the U.S. Census Bureau of 2000, 5.3 percent of Americans are of French or French Canadian ancestry. In 2013 the number of people living in the US who were born in France was estimated at 129,520. [60] Franco-Americans made up close to, or more than, 10 percent of the population of seven states, six in New England and Louisiana. Population wise, California has the greatest Franco population followed by Louisiana, while Maine has the highest by percentage (25 percent).

States with the highest percentage of Francos
State Percentage
Maine 25.0%
New Hampshire 24.5%
Vermont 23.9%
Rhode Island 17.2%
Louisiana 16.2%
Massachusetts 12.9%
Connecticut 9.9%
Michigan 6.8%
Montana 5.3%
Minnesota 5.3%
State Percentage
Wisconsin 5.0%
North Dakota 4.7%
Washington 4.6%
Oregon 4.6%
Wyoming 4.2%
Alaska 4.2%
Missouri 3.8%
Kansas 3.6%
Indiana 2.7%
Ohio 2.5%
States with the largest Franco communities
State Population
California 1,303,714
Louisiana 1,069,558
Massachusetts 947,319
Michigan 942,230
New York 834,540
Texas 673,606
Florida 618,426
Illinois 485,902
Ohio 464,159
Connecticut 370,490
Maine 347,510
State Population
Wisconsin 346,406
Missouri 345,971
Washington 339,950
Pennsylvania 338,041
New Hampshire 337,225
Minnesota 321,087
New Jersey 213,815
Virginia 212,373
Oregon 209,239
Rhode Island 206,540
Vermont 165,623